The Antikythera Mechanism is widely thought to be the oldest analog computer ever found. Hauled from the depths of the Aegean Sea in 1900, the computer was constructed of a series of interlocking gears of different sizes that worked together to reconcile the lunar month calendar with the solar year calendar.
Researchers used new 3-D X-ray tomography technology to identify the names of the months on the back of one of the dials. They were surprised to learn that the computer’s origin was likely Corinthian, and not Rhodesian:
The mechanism’s connection with the Corinthians was unexpected, the researchers said, because other cargo in the shipwreck appeared to be from the eastern Mediterranean, places like Kos, Rhodes and Pergamon. The months inscribed on the instrument, they wrote, are “practically a complete match” with those on calendars from Illyria and Epirus in northwestern Greece and with the island of Corfu. Seven months suggest a possible link with Syracuse.
Anyway, the cool part of the story is buried near the bottom. It turns out that while they were at it, the Greeks attached a separate dial for tracking the pan-Hellenic games, otherwise known as the Olympics. The four-year cycle was a “common framework for chronology” in ancient Greece, according to the researchers.
It is likely that some researchers will reconstruct the mechanism and demonstrate the power of ancient computers. Then the open source community will demand to see the specs on dial sizes and numbers of gear teeth. Then Apple will come out with a smaller, easier to use version that also stores 50,000 MP3s. Then Google will come out with its own Olympic calendar widget. Then someone will develop a Metonian calendar Facebook application. Then someone will coin the phrase “Web 2.Ω” and write a best-seller about how applying the ancient wisdom of Greek computer makers can improve your bottom line.
Man. I’m full of ideas.
Discovering How Greeks Computed in 100 B.C. [New York Times]